Thursday July 7, 2016 5:00 PM
Upon arrival at our planned destination, we find a squatter has already occupied our desired campsite. Though not a significant setback, it was an omen of things to come. We soon found an alternate site nearby and the members of our party began to trickle in. We had 9 paddlers for the trip plus 2 members in our escort vehicle, the Zodiac. This extra level of security allowed us to stretch the envelope of the conditions we could paddle in.
Friday July 8, 7:30 AM
We arose early to try to get a jump on the storm we knew would be drifting in across Lake Michigan during the day. Our plan was to quickly stage vehicles at the Carp River landing and make our way south to the land of the trolls. We would then launch from McGulpin Point before crossing under the bridge on our way to St. Ignace. We were delayed in getting the entire group to the launch site as one of the vehicles ran out of gas less than a mile from the station. However, upon arrival in St. Ignace it was noted that the storms were coming way too fast and strong to attempt a straits crossing today. We decided that the best alternative was to launch from St Ignace and beach our kayaks on the lawn of the Mackinac Island Public Library and become tourists. During the crossing we encountered very turbulent waters, enough to upset the kayak of one of our members, thus earning her the nickname of “Flipper”.
Shortly after arriving at Mackinac Island we were beset upon by a significant lightning storm. Consequently, we decided to stay and enjoy the island for a while. We all enjoyed the “cuisine” from Mighty Mac Hamburgers. Afterwards we perused some of the local shops and made our way up the street until we found ourselves on the lawn at the foot of the hill topped by Fort Mackinac. After taking possession of the statue that was upon the lawn, we attempted to lay siege to the fort, in a very gentlemanly manner I might say. Our demands were reasonable, we only required “French fries” for the return of their beloved statue. But, alas, they would not even enter into talks with us, even at the behest of Captain Pathfinder. So we decided to leave the island and find another more to our liking. And behold, right across the narrow passage was the perfect target, Round Island.
We set off from Mackinac to make camp on Round Island. The journey, though short, was fraught with many perils. We had to contend with all the ferry traffic coming and going to the Island as well as looking out for freighters which also use the narrow passage. To complicate matters even more, there was another storm barreling across the lake towards our tenuous location atop the waves. We safely made it across the gap between the islands and worked our way to the western flank of the island with the hope that we may get a glimpse of a sunset behind the mighty Mackinac Bridge that evening. That hope was fulfilled on a small but beautiful scale later that evening after a series of rainstorms.
After quickly finding a landing site the crew immediately dispersed into the woods in search of the ultimate campsite. Some opted to stay on the southern edge in the thick cedar woods that lined the shore with the bridge as a backdrop in the distance. Others opted for the northern shore, in an old cedar grove that was more open and inhabited by slugs of unusual size, with views of Mackinac Island. In between showers the crew made and consumed their suppers, explored the island and visited the Round Island Lighthouse. We had plans to visit the lighthouse the next morning during the annual open house event which takes place only one day per year. However, our plans were again thwarted, as the open house had been cancelled due to safety concerns with the structure. That evening we again adjusted our plans for the next morning before retiring to our protected shelters for the evening.
Saturday July 9, 8:30 AM
We awoke to a very brisk wind that threatened to again disrupt our plans. We decide to make the 5 mile crossing back to St. Ignace and reassess our plans when we reached shore. Our plan was to continue north to Horseshoe Bay Wilderness for the next night’s camp. It soon became apparent that the wind had not listened to the weatherman the night before and was bearing down on us with its full might from the north. We were being tossed about by 2 to 3 foot waves for the entirety of the crossing. At times our paddling partners would disappear and then reappear from behind the waves. To make the crossing even more difficult, we were crossing at a 90 degree angle to the wind, meaning we were taking the waves broadside most of the crossing. Everyone dug in and we made the crossing in very short order and arrived at the Coast Guard Boat ramp well before lunch. However, the whole crew was noticeably weakened by the effort required for the feat. Due the wind direction, it was obvious that we could not continue north for another 8 miles to a campsite in Horseshoe Bay Wilderness. The waves and wind also made it too difficult to attempt a straits crossing. Captain Pathfinder suggested the Soo Locks as a potential trip. Everyone agreed it was good idea, maybe just because of the hour long drive to rest up!
We loaded up our gear and headed for Sault St. Marie. When we arrived at the south shore of the Saint Mary’s river, just above the locks on the Lake Superior side, we were met with an even stronger wind than we had left an hour before in St. Ignace. Nevertheless, we launched into a protected bay and headed north across the river. We quickly came face to face with our toughest paddle of the excursion. The wind was coming at us from our left front quarter, the current was carrying us from left to right and the waves…..well, they just went any way they felt like at the moment you happened upon them. Most of the crew made the crossing with much trepidation about the return trip. Some were unsure of a successful return. As we paddled into the calm waters of the lock, the return trip was weighing heavy on our minds. We enjoyed the banter of the lockmasters as we headed into the lock after a short wait for a northbound vessel. We entered the lock, most of us unsure of how this would work out. We were greeted by the sound of rushing water and then we began to lower, slowly at first and then increasing in speed until we were dropping at a very noticeable rate. After the water level ceased declining, we waited again for the giant iron doors to open and release us into the lower St. Mary’s River and the city of Sault St. Marie, Canada. Finally the doors opened and we shot out, only to find a visibly swift current a short distance away. We made the wise choice to turn around and catch the next trip upstream through the locks. The lockmasters were very cordial as we again made our way through the lock. However, the return trip was now weighing very heavily on most kayakers minds. We left the lock northbound and trepidatiously made our way upstream to the open water that had battered us about on our first crossing. As we neared the crossing point, it became apparent that there had been a significant decrease in the wind speed and the group’s outlook improved by a great deal. We dug in, though we were getting very tired by this point, and worked our way across the river. However we were cut off by 2 freighters that were passing by, one northbound, and the other southbound. We were forced to wait for several minutes, at times they did not appear to even be moving at all. Our sore muscles and tired eyes were yearning for the break that only land could provide, and here we were stuck hovering in the middle of the St. Mary’s river. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, our path to the protected bay from which we launched was open again. We quickly reached the safety of the calm waters and beached our kayaks.
After loading up our gear we reconvened for a quick briefing on our camping location for the evening. We had decided to head south the Carp River National Forest Campground. We do not normally use campgrounds for FBET activities but, it was late in the evening and we did not have any remote campsites identified. It would also put us close to the bridge for a quick launch the following morning.
Sunday July 10, 9:30 AM
This last morning we took a little longer packing up and getting ready, as we are starting to get a bit weary. Two members of the group have commitments that require them to depart for home and forgo the last days paddle.
The remainder of the group head south over the Mackinac bridge to a launch near the historic McGulpin Rock. The rock, while quite large, does not seem particularly significant when you are near it. Its true significance would not present itself until later. The group was pleasantly surprised by the calm gentle waves that greeted us on this fine July morning on Lake Michigan. The group was looking forward to a more agreeable paddle on this day. After launching our kayaks into the lake (and Captain Pathfinder driving halfway across the lake to launch the zodiac), we were headed east toward our destination, the Fort Michilimackinac. We had to hustle to make it there for the firing of the cannon at eleven o’clock. After our arrival we watched the proceedings from the water and witnessed the cannon fire over the lake. We then put in place our diabolical plan to lay siege upon our second fort this weekend. Captain Pathfinder first requested to talk to an officer, but alas, none were available. He then presented our simple demand, a shot glass from the gift shop was all we asked for the return of their lake! They replied that they could not release any prize as all was the possession of the King. We notified them that they had fired their only cannon and now had no protection, at which point, they proceeded to point out the 3 cannons mounted upon the walls of the fort. At this juncture, we wisely decided to continue on our journey eastward. We then turned our gaze upon the massive structure which dominated the sky and water in front of us and realizing the calmness of the waves today we proceeded to follow it northward. We made our way out to the concrete that the suspension cables anchor to at their southern terminus. The sheer size and scale of the bridge structures were overwhelming. The bridge paddle may have turned out to be the most picturesque and calm paddle of the trip. Afterward we made our way back to the southern end of the bridge to have lunch in the park on the bridge’s eastern flank. It was when we re-entered the water that the significance of McGulpin Rock became apparent. Even from that distance, the rock was easily seen and almost appeared to be larger than life.
Our trip followed very little of the original plan and was modified several times on most days. Nonetheless, we had an excellent trip with lots of fun and adventure. We managed to kayak in 3 of the Great Lakes, the Soo Locks, under the Mackinac Bridge, lay siege to 2 forts, “pretend” to be tourists on Mackinac Island, camp on an Island in the Straits of Mackinac and do it all while having the time of our lives. We made new friends, developed new skills and pushed our comfort zones around like the waves bounced us around on this trip. Yes, we followed the motto for the Fortune Bay Expedition Team, “We Go Farther”.